European leaders visit Ukraine after criticism, offer EU hope

Macron, Scholz, and Draghi all say they are strong supporters of Zelenskiy



Photo by AFP
Photo by AFP

By Reuters

Published: Thu 16 Jun 2022, 10:55 PM

The leaders of Germany, France and Italy, all criticised in the past by Kyiv for support viewed as too cautious, visited Ukraine on Thursday and offered the hope of EU membership to a country pleading for weapons to fend off Russia.

The visit by French President Emmanuel Macron, Germany's Olaf Scholz and Italy's Mario Draghi began with the leaders touring a town near Kyiv, wrecked early in the crisis.

After holding talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, the leaders signalled that Ukraine should be granted European Union candidate status, a symbolic gesture that would draw Kyiv closer to the economic bloc.

Scholz said Germany had taken in 800,000 Ukrainian refugees who had fled the conflict and would continue to support Ukraine as long as it needs.

"Ukraine belongs to the European family," he said.

On the battlefield, Ukrainian officials said their troops were still holding out against massive Russian bombardment in the eastern city of Sievierodonetsk, and described new progress in a counteroffensive in the south.

But they said battles on both main fronts depended on receiving more aid from the West, especially artillery to counter Russia's big advantage in firepower.

"We appreciate the support already provided by partners, we expect new deliveries, primarily heavy weapons, modern rocket artillery, anti-missile defence systems," Zelenskiy said after the talks with his European counterparts.

"There is a direct correlation: the more powerful weapons we get, the faster we can liberate our people, our land," he said.

Macron said France would step up arms deliveries to Kyiv, while NATO defence ministers meeting in Brussels were also expected to promise more weapons.

The visit had taken weeks to organise, while the three most powerful EU leaders all fended off criticism over positions described as too deferential to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The leaders, who were joined by Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, toured Irpin, a devastated town northeast of the capital.

Noting graffiti on a wall that read "Make Europe, not war", Macron said: "It's very moving to see that. This is the right message."

Scholz, Macron and Draghi all say they are strong supporters of Ukraine who have taken practical steps to reduce Europe's dependence on Russian energy and find weapons to help Kyiv.

But Ukraine has long criticised Scholz over what it regards as Germany's slow delivery of weapons and reluctance to sever economic ties with Moscow, and was furious this month at Macron for saying in an interview that Russia must not be "humiliated".

Italy, which last year sourced 40% of its natural gas imports from Russia, has also proposed a peace plan which Ukrainians fear could lead to pressure on them to give up territory.

After the talks in Kyiv, Macron said some sort of communication channel was still needed with Putin.

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